Eric Fierst told a group of eighth graders at Lake Braddock Secondary School the positive effect joining the military had on his troubled youth. He encouraged them to make good choices and show self-discipline and hard work. But what really got the 25 students humming was when Fierst mentioned his Harley.
Fierst, manager of Quality Control and Training at Interstate Van Lines, was a featured speaker as part of a program called CHOICES, which was presented for the second year to the students in Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) at Lake Braddock.
"It teaches children to make proper decisions through goal-setting," said Deborah Dempsey, teacher of the family and consumer sciences class. "They learn decision-making and how it affects the rest of their lives."
Fierst was one of three professionals who came to Dempsey’s class last week as the culmination to the six-week CHOICES curriculum. The program is designed by the CHOICES Education Group, a non-profit group formed in Seattle in 1985 that reaches over 200,000 middle and high school students each year through its seminars, according to its Web site. The programs cost about $120 per class for the first year, and about $100 per class the second year. Dempsey used the program for her FCS class last spring, and received financing through by a grant from Nordstrom’s department stores. The program is designed to fit within the "personal development" of the FCS class curriculum, but Fierst and the other professionals were encouraged to use their life experiences to speak to the students about making good choices.
To that end, Fierst used his time to demonstrate through his own story that making the right choices can lead to professional success, a point which hit home during the question-and-answer time when one student asked how much he made. Fierst wouldn’t tell, but would mention the Harley-Davidson motorcycle he rides. That was enough to convince the students that school is a good thing.
"It made me not want to drop out of high school," said Alexis Jones, a student in Dempsey’s class. "Not that I wanted to, but now it made me want to get good grades and get a diploma and get into a good college."
DURING THE CHOICES program, students learned how to prepare for the future, beginning with the basics like choosing which courses they will take in high school, through college, and possibly graduate school, as well as which careers offer the salaries they desire.
"It actually helped out a lot, because you don’t know so much about life — that you have to have a budget, you have to manage your time," said Toral Kharod, a student in Dempsey’s class. "It really helped let you know you have to manage your time, and you can have fun and do homework. You can still have fun in your life."
Also included in the program, said Dempsey, were lessons on credit management, finances, peer pressure and smart shopping.
"They’re the ones who are starting to make the choices in their high school courses. So this is a real eye-opener for them," said Dempsey.
Students are also taught more intangible skills, like goal-setting and positive thinking. One speaker, Jeff Scannell, also from Interstate Van Lines, said he can appreciate the effect the program might have on the students.
"It is amazing how little the students realized how tough it is in the real world. It would have been nice to have a program like this when I was going to school."
Nearly 300 students have taken the program, which will be given to members of the National Junior Honor Society next semester.